Influencer Endorsement and the Purchasing Power of Psychological Ownership

By Addison Bordeaux

Original research by Mandy Pick

Image by M. Navolykina on XCart

Did you know that the so-called “social media influencer” has more sway in consumer buying power than celebrity endorsements?

Change in Viewing Habits

It has become increasingly challenging to use traditional advertising to reach a younger demographic. A 2018 study found that only 1% of US citizens aged 16-24 named watching terrestrial television as their preferred media activity (Pick, 2021). Instead, watching content on video streaming platforms and viewing social media content were listed (Pick, 2021). With a shift in entertainment channels that target audiences consume, advertisers must shift gears and include social media in their marketing mix. It has become more and more popular to use influencers to promote a product. One study found that 79% of marketing professionals had an influencer marketing budget for 2019 (Pick, 2021). Mandy Pick conducted a study using two influencers, one fake and one established, to discover how the perceived credibility of an influencer affects viewers’ psychological ownership, and thus, influence consumer behavior positively (Pick, 2021). More information on the study below.

Influencer vs Celebrity

Celebrity endorsements are not a new concept and have been used in marketing campaigns for decades. Pick defines celebrities as “famous and well-known persons who achieved public recognition” (Pick, 2021, p11). Marketers use celebrity endorsers to create “image improvement, positive influence on consumer attitudes towards advertisement and product and, consequently, on consumers’ consumption behavior” (Pick, 2021, p12). When viewers see celebrities that they admire in association with a product or brand, they are more likely to have a positive feeling about that product or brand. The more trustworthiness and perceived expertise society believes an endorser has, whether that be a celebrity or influencer, the more likely a viewer would have a positive attitude towards product and purchase intention (Pick, 2021). Companies choose which celebrity they want to endorse their products based on their target audiences and what celebrities their target audiences admire.

However, “studies have shown that celebrities are less credible than influencers, although both celebrities and influencers impact consumer’s purchase behavior” (Pick, 2021, p10). While influencers are usually not professionals within the fields they discuss online, they do act as role models and opinion leaders to their followers and often communicate personally with them. “Owing to these influencers’ origins, they often appear more credible than celebrity testimonials” (Pick, 2021, p10). To social media users, influencers are normal people, whereas celebrities have a more structured image that they show to the public and are known to try to sell you things. Additionally, “negative information about celebrities that could destroy their credibility might also damage the product brand evaluation” when a celebrity is attached to that brand.

You can read a list of celebrity endorsements that ended poorly here.

Perceived Influencer Credibility (IC)

Most people are aware that the primary objective of traditional print and television advertisements is to persuade the audience to make a purchase. However, viewers do not have the same preconceived notion about influencers. Social media users will seek out influencers that create content relevant to their interest and build a relationship with the influencer that they self-identify with (Pick, 2021).  “Users invest their time in becoming better acquainted with influencers by following their content” (Pick, 2021, p14). Once social media users feel an established connection with an influencer, the influencer’s perceived credibility increases for that viewer because they see the influencer as someone whose opinion they can trust. Pick states that “influencers whose perceived credibility is high evoke a stronger feeling of a personal connection to them, which, in turn increase the likelihood that consumers will regard an advertised product as belonging, which subsequently exhibits a higher purchase intention” (Pick, 2021, p15). Marketers take advantage of this by sending influencers free merchandise to show on their accounts or paying for a sponsored feature of their product. “Despite the viewer’s understanding that the influencer was paid in some way to promote a sponsored product and that the influencer legally owns the product, viewers feel psychological ownership of products due to the “consumers’ belief in their sense of connection to such influencers” (Pick, 2021, p21). 

Psychological Ownership (PO)

Psychological ownership refers to the “state in which individuals feel as though the target of ownership (material or non-material in nature) or a piece of it is “theirs”, even though there is no legal justification for this feeling or actual possession” (Pick, 2021, p13). In other words, PO is when consumers feel like a product is theirs, but they have no ownership over it. The concept of psychological ownership originates in behavior literature, but “has recently gained prominence in marketing and social media research” (Pick, 2021, p13). Pick found that the perceived PO feeling for a product advertised by an influencer positively affected consumers’ attitude towards the product being advertised (Pick, 2021). 

Pick’s Study

Over 200 people were assigned to view YouTube videos and Instagram pictures of either the fake influencer or actual influencer’s campaigns to sell a hand blender or fitness drink powder, respectively (Pick, 2021). Youtube and Instagram were named the most important platforms that influencers used for brand cooperation worldwide and thus, were the chosen platforms for the study (Pick, 2021). After viewing the influencer content, participants completed a survey about their perceived and actual connection to the influencer. The results showed that the theory of perceived credibility’s positive effect on the product was supported and there was a significant relationship between attitude towards the product and purchase intention (Pick, 2021). The results also showed that psychological ownership has significant effects on attitude towards the product and purchase intention (Pick, 2021). Additionally, the perceived credibility has a positive effect on psychological ownership (Pick, 2021). “Despite the influencer advertising a product and legally owning it, influencers seem to be able to increase the PO feeling through consumers’ belief in their sense of connection to such influencers” (Pick, 2021, p21). These results are relevant to marketers as they prove a positive correlation between influencers and purchasing power. 

Image by M. Pick on European Business Review


Jurberg, A. (2022, April 7). 11 Celebrity Endorsements Gone Wrong – Better Marketing. Medium. 

Navolykina, M. (2022). A Beginner’s Guide to Influencer Marketing [+How Affiliates Can Leverage Them]. X-Cart. 

Pick, M. (2021). Psychological ownership in social media influencer marketing. European Business Review, 33(1)